Lifestyle & Luxury
As a five-year-old growing up in suburban Chicago, my interest in the cinema started with a Saturday matinee at the Glen Theater with my mom and middle brother to see Old Yeller, a 1957 Walt Disney classic. Up until that time my “cinematic” experience was limited to what I could watch on a black and white television. Minutes after the lights dimmed and the movie—shot in Technicolor—jumped onto the giant screen, I was mesmerized. That matinee sparked an unwavering love affair with movies.
Josh Frank, owner of Blue Starlite Cinema Social and Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, is channeling enthusiasm like what I felt decades ago with his two cinema concepts operating in the Vail Valley. A self-proclaimed entrepreneur, Frank, who spent four years in film school at SUNY Purchase Conservatory in New York, had the lightbulb go off after first seeing success showing movies on the side of a vintage trailer.
“About eight years ago the food truck-trailer phenomenon became a thing in Austin, and so I had this idea to do a trailer that sold works from my artist friends and sold desserts,” said Frank. “I would show movies on the side of the trailer, and though I didn't make much money selling either, people came to watch the movies.”
The Austin, Texas native took his affinity for cinema to a new level when he set up shop in a building on the city’s east side and launched his initial indoor movie venue. That enterprise set off another lightbulb when he and his then girlfriend—now wife—Jessica stumbled on the idea of re-creating the drive-in movie experience in an urban setting.
“For our six-month dating anniversary, I set up a one car drive-in, painting a screen on the wall in the alley behind the building,” explained Frank. “I’d put little drive-in speakers I bought from eBay on the side of the car and as we were watching the movie, we agreed it was really cool, and people would probably pay to do it.”
Between a network of friends and social media, word quickly spread of his urban drive-in movie nights. People started buying tickets, the schedule of movies grew and a business was born. Today cinemagoers are drawn to the Austin venue by events like the 4th Annual Harry Potter Drive-in Film Fest, as well as childhood favorites, drive-in classics, indie films, art house, cult and Gen X/Y pop culture faves. Credited as the world’s first mini urban drive-in movie theater, “NBC News” has referred to it as the “drive-in of the future” and Conde Nast Traveler named it “one of the world’s coolest outdoor movie theaters”.
The thought of introducing similar cinematic concepts to Colorado occurred just over two years ago when Josh and Jessica were vacationing in Vail. Jessica’s parents, who own a second home in the Vail Valley, had taken family vacations here for years. On a quest to find a location for the “pop-up” drive-in, Frank visited area towns.
“My friend, Jake Wolf, who is on the Avon Town Council, drove me into Minturn and took me to Little Beach Park,” Frank commented. “It was this beautiful plateau surrounded by mountains in this big open space. I looked around and said ‘This is the place.’”
Once he received the requisite permission from the town of Minturn, he got the word out that the “pop-up” drive-in was open for business. Looking forward to its third summer/fall of operation, the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In has already made a name for itself as the “world’s highest drive-in,” where up to 50 cars fill the lot on movie nights at Little Beach Park. Patrons, who watch movies on an inflatable, 32-foot screen with sound playing through an FM radio channel, can purchase Popped with Altitude popcorn, grab-and-go stuff like burgers, sandwiches and donuts from Northside Kitchen, the Blue Starlite’s own campfire s’mores or bring a picnic of their own.
Energized by the success of his outdoor venture Frank turned his attention to creating an indoor counterpart. After dinner one night at the then—Vail Cascade Hotel he, Jessica and her parents were walking past a nearby building.
“Her father said, ‘I used to take my daughter to this movie theater all the time when she was little’,” explained Frank. “I replied ‘there was a movie theater in this building?’ I was fascinated and wanted to know what was going on with the space.”
Learning that the theater had been closed for ten years, he began researching the idea of having it as a year-round location. The space found new life when Frank received a call from Michael Hecht, owner of the defunct Cascade Village Theater. Hecht reached out to him in largely due to the creative and engaging approach of the drive-in, to see if he would be interested in bringing a new movie entertainment adventure to Vail. Catalyzed by that conversation and his innovative programming ideas, Frank created Blue Starlite Cinema Social, a cutting-edge dining and movie watching experience that, since its introduction last November, is resonating with cinema fans of all ages.
Partnered with Hotel Talisa, a 285-room luxury destination hotel that took over the Vail Cascade space, Blue Starlite Cinema Social is celebrating films with social events that include 1980’s dance parties and Frank Sinatra-era type supper club evenings. Working in concert with the hotel, the cinema offers patrons “movie room service” dining and access to hotel amenities. Curated by Hotel Talisa’s culinary team, the dining options include traditional fare such as hot dogs, popcorn and nachos, as well as sexier items like shrimp and olives, twice-cooked chicken wings and gourmet pizzas. Ticket holders also can dine at Gessner, the hotel’s restaurant and chill at its Fireside Lounge with pre-show and post-movie beverages.
With two theaters—one a larger theater containing 280 stadium seats and a stage, and a smaller 70-seat space well-suited to show indie, art house films and host private parties, Blue Starlite Cinema Social is filling a cinematic void felt in the valley for a decade.
“We’ve brought a new approach to the cinema experience by offering guests a full evening of entertainment, good food and music and great films,” said Frank. “When you come to our theaters the idea is that it is very social. It’s more of a celebration.”
Time to take your seat, let the lights dim and enjoy the show.
Blue Starlite Cinema Social
1310 Westhaven Dr., Vail
Download the Blue Starlite app at iTunes or Google Play
Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In
801 Ed6, Minturn
1300 Westhaven Dr., Vail
Kim D. McHugh has written about travel, snow sports, hotels, restaurants, architecture and interesting people since 1986. He recalls seeing Planet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) as a triple feature, sneaking into the drive-in hiding in the trunk of his buddy’s car, a practice he doesn’t endorse today.
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